GRANT AID HAS always been a funny one. In one sense, why should the European Union assist profit-making enterprises? Surely market forces should separate the weak from the strong, resulting in inherent benefits for the marketplace itself.
But European taxpayers’ money is continuously being invested into the modern enterprise – and for very solid reasons. We need the capitalist drive to deliver a successful European economy, but we also need that drive to be directed towards the more general needs of the society at large.
The EU Commission sets out several grand societal challenges, where research and innovation are aligned to meet needs within Europe, such as to help an aging population or address serious concerns on changes to our global environment.
Grand challenges which are encouraged by grand scale investments, with the current framework Horizon 2020 (H2020) program totalling €80 billion over its lifetime.
This article highlights just five EU programs which you may not have heard of, but as with all funding instruments some administrative efforts are usually required, as well as a tolerance for low success rates and a deft hand in partner identification.
In a world where EU programmes require multiple partners, universities and large application processes, the SME instrument is a relative breath of fresh air.
In this instance, the applicant can be a sole SME (as defined by the EU). The initial application is less than 20 pages long, and if successful the funding is worth €50,000, with phase two valued at up to €5 million.
This instrument is well funded by the commission, with over €5 billion committed to the programme over the lifetime of the H2020 program.
The Irish have done particularly well in this program, with a 16% success rate compared to a European average of 6%. It may be worth a punt.
CareerFit is a variant on the EU Marie Curie programme, through which Enterprise Ireland is looking to place an initial 50 post-doctoral researchers directly into the Irish industrial ecosystem.
The programme will pay for a post-doctoral researcher for three years, including travel, family allowance, materials and training – with no cash contribution required from the company.
The bursary is worth around €300,000 in total and is an open program which allows the researcher, college, technology centre and company to facilitate the adoption of a serious piece of research of value to the business.
While the program does not require a cash investment from the participating company, the resulting IP may have to be negotiated with the partner university.
Eureka Smart programme
The Eureka programme is a well-established EU mechanism, operating at the close-to-market space, with over 37 European counties participating.
The idea is that the relevant programme within Eureka will evaluate the proposal, which requires at least two partners from two countries, and, if approved, the funding will come directly from the national government in each case.
The program offers flexibility to the partners – you decide the duration, costs and focus of the activity being undertaken – and connectivity to the wider EU partners.
The latest program released under the Eureka banner is the Smart advanced manufacturing programme, which focuses on close-to-commercial research in any element of advanced manufacturing.
A dozen Irish manufacturing plants have signed up for this new programme already, with a call expected to be launched this coming December.
Electronic Components and Systems for European Leadership (Ecsel, pronounced XL) is a European joint undertaking between three large-scale EU institutions representing the main EU players in the areas of micro- and nano-electronics, smart integrated systems and embedded/cyber-physical systems.
The funding available to this program tops €5 billion in total and links national and EU programmes.
If a project is approved, it is part-funded by the joint undertaking and part-funded by the national funding agencies for each partner in their own country.
Factories of the future
OK a bit of a cheat here as you may have heard of it, but Factories of the Future, along with its sister programs, are amongst the most popular programs within the EU funding ecosystem.
Without sugar-coating it, this can be an unwieldly reading exercise that will dull even the most enthusiastic of new comers, but please persist. There is considerable help available, particularly from Enterprise Ireland.
Get stuck in
Funding programs can drive innovation at a commercial level, which not only benefits the practitioner and the economy but the society within which they exist.
Whilst Ireland has had successes in EU funding calls, too many company owners and multinational managers cite the bureaucracy and assumed failure rates as excuses to not properly engage.
Which begs the question for businesses: if something was hard, competitive and prone to risk, would we walk away, or would we assess the requirements, build a strategic roadmap, resource the plan and execute?
Andrew Lynch is chief innovation officer with Irish Manufacturing Research.
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